Three years ago, in an office gift swap, I received a $10 Starbucks card, and so was born one of my favorite Christmas traditions. Actually, it’s a post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s tradition: sort of a Boxing Day tradition, or a Gap Week tradition, one that falls sometime in the lazy, unstructured days between Christmas and New Year’s. We used the gift card that first year and have done it on our own dime ever since, but it’s well worth the money I spend. For a couple of hours one afternoon in the days following Christmas, the kids and I head to our local Starbucks with stationery and pens in hand, buy ourselves cups of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream, and settle in at a table to write our thankyou notes.
For Christmas season of 2009, yesterday was official Thankyou Notes at Starbucks Day, and I was amazed by our productivity. Accessories always help: this year Santa had brought each of the kids personalized memo pads. Tim’s notes were yellow and blue, with a catcher’s mitt and baseball next to his name at the top of each sheet; Holly’s depict a slightly hallucinogenic garden scene, with oversized butterflies and ladybugs wending amidst Technicolor flowers and her full three-part name, just the way she likes it, printed across the top. I had my list of whom to thank for what faithfully recorded on my Palm, which I put in the center of the table for all to consult, and we got to work.
The kids write very simple thankyou notes, but I can’t blame them much. They were lucky to have received presents from a lot of different people, and it was more important to me that they get a lot of notes written than that each one be a gem of creative self-expression. As long as they get one or two sentences past “Thank you for the blank,” I consider it a job reasonably well done. Halfway through the ten or so notes they each needed to write (Holly had one more than Tim because her teacher had given her a gift), they finished their hot chocolate, but I was so impressed with their dedication to the project that I let them each return to the counter for a pastry. A cup of cocoa and an apple fritter versus not having to nag about thankyou notes for the rest of the season? No contest, in my mind.
I like to think that this yearly exercise imparts to them not only that thankyou notes are important but that they are an inevitable part of celebrating Christmas and receiving gifts. We don’t spend a lot of time discussing it; we just go do it. But I also like the thought that the hot chocolate and pastries makes it more fun than tedious. And I like the idea that maybe they’re absorbing some of the pleasure of sitting at a Starbucks to read or write, one of my most treasured but least often experienced indulgences. I dream that someday they’ll ask to come back to Starbucks to sit quietly and read or write even when it’s not Christmas gap week.
Instilling the idea that there’s far more to Christmas than Christmas presents is something a lot of parents struggle with, and I always say the best way to do it is not to downplay the gifts but to “up-play” the many other traditions of the Christmas season. For us, Starbucks Afternoon is one such tradition. Today, I’ll address the envelopes and mail off all their notes, plus the few that I wrote, having not taken in the haul my kids did. I have no illusions that the recipients of the notes will be bowled over with the kids’ writing talent nor even necessarily with their sincerity; these are very rudimentary expressions of gratitude. But I do think the kids are learning about an important part of basic etiquette, and I hope they’re learning that the basics, like thankyou notes, can even be fun.